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Updated: April 8, 2020

Insider Notebook: Development plan expires, but land's future won't change

a two-lane road going through woods with mountains in the distance Photo / Maureen Milliken A concept plan for half of Kingsbury Plantation, in Piscataquis County, has expired and the Land Use Planning Commission has rezoned the area, maintaining conservation protections for much of it. Route 16, pictured, bisects the plantation and borders the southern edge of the parcel in question.

The state Land Use Planning Commission has approved rezoning for nearly 12,000 acres in Kingsbury Plantation, in Piscataquis County, after a 15-year development and conservation plan expired.

The Whetstone Pond, Foss Pond and Hilton Ponds Lake Concept Plan, approved in 2005, zoned 11,962 acres owned by Linkletter & Sons Inc. as a Resource Plan Protection Subdivision. The plan allowed development of 38 seasonal residence lots ranging from 1.5-3 acres on 100 acres of the property. About 1,000 acres were permanently conserved, and the balance was conserved for 15 years.

The plan's intention was to lease or sell the developed lots to generate income to pay the property taxes and maintain the rest of the land for forest management and conservation purposes, the owners said in 2005.

The 15-year protection expires May 19, and the landowners, a construction firm with a focus on forest management in Athens, in Somerset County, decided last year not to renew it and worked with the commission on how to go forward and still conserve the land.

With the zoning dying with the concept plan, the LUPC had to formulate something to take its place before May 19. The new zoning  splits the Resource Plan Protection subdistrict into seven separate zoning districts for the wildly differing mountain and forest terrain, which also includes four lakes.

The new zoning doesn't change the 2005 vision for the property — it conserves the heavily forested and relatively remote area while allowing limited development where there already is some, as well as forest management and wilderness recreation. The new zones are Residential Development, General Management, Great Pond Protection, Shoreland Protection, Wetland Protection, Soils and Geology Protection; Fish and Wildlife Protection.

The residential zone covers the area where four subdivision permits, totaling 32 residental lots, were approved between 2006 and 2009. No permits were submitted for the remaining eight permits allowed under the plan. There are also some lots along Foss Pond in the concept plan area that were there before 2005.

In the past 15 years, a conservation easement in perpetuity was granted for two parcels in the plan area around Whetstone and Foss and Hilton ponds, held by Maine Woodland Owners and the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.

Since 2010, a meteorological tower has been installed on a western parcel of the land, as well as several wind turbines associated with the Bingham Wind Project by Blue Sky West LLC and Helix Wind.

The concept plan land is part of 20,000 acres Linkletter & Sons Inc. bought from John Hancock Life Insurance in 2000. The plan, the owners said at the time, was "created as a means to responsibly develop shorefront lots that blend with present development; that is compatible with the natural character of Foss and Whetstone Pond; to ensure that forestry management is still a vital part of the land holdings; to continue to provide primitive recreational opportunities on the woodlands; and as a means to provide revenue for Maine state taxes."

Kingsbury Plantation, which has 26 year-round residents and dozens of seasonal camps, is starting the process of withdrawing from the LUPC's oversight, according to the commission, but that process won't be done before the concept plan expires.

As with several development concept plans for less populated areas of the state that were underway before the 2008 recession, things changed a lot since they were drawn up. Other recently scrapped plans that went before the LUPC are the nearby former Plum Creek Moosehead Lake plan, inherited by Weyerhaeuser when it acquired the timber and development company in 2016, and a J.D. Irving Co. plan in northern Aroostook County.

Maine real estate and COVID-19

As reported two weeks ago in this space, real estate brokers tend to be an optimistic adaptable bunch, and they are finding ways to keep business humming despite restrictions designed to keep the COVID-19 pandemic from spreading.

Benchmark Real Estate, of Portland, hosted a free online panel, "Real Estate in the Time of COVID-19," March 29, that's available for viewing online.

Panelists were Benchmark owner Tom Landry; Benchmark buyer specialist Kaitlin Roderigue; Ed Gosselin, senior mortgage banker, Total Mortgage; Benjamin McCall, an attorney with Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry; and Chris Tweedie, president, Confidence Building Inspections.

Benchmark has also implemented programs that allow brokers to work with buyers and sellers virtually, as well as a "Jumpstart" program that poises those who want to list their homes ready to hit the ground running when restrictions loosen up. "A lot of them have time to get the property ready now, while they're staying at home," Landry said.

Landry said his firm is still listing property and working with buyers, with the proper restrictions. But he told Mainebiz this week that, despite necessary distancing and other safety measures, ways to physically show properties while adhering to distancing should be further explored, particularly in Portland, where distancing rules are stricter. The council last week tabled an amendment to adopt the state's list of essential businesses, and he said he hopes they do. They're scheduled to bring it up Monday, at the prompting of Councilor Kim Cook.

The state's list, based on one drawn up by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and used as a guideline by the Centers for Disease Control, includes real estate brokers. While cities and towns can't have rules less restrictive than the state's, they can have rules more restrictive, which Portland does.

Maine Home Connection, also based in Portland, has a webpage dedicated to COVID-19 and its impact on real estate. Broker/owner Laura Sosnowski has a regular video blog with topics dedicated to the crisis, including dealing with stress, social vs. physical distancing, and more.

A map of Portland's munjoy hill with icons showing houses and other property and a pop out box about the historic Noble House
Courtesy / Greater Portland Landmarks
Greater Portland Landmarks has a variety of self-guided interpretive tours of Portland area neighborhoods on its website, so those who are staying home can still "see" the city's architectural history.

Take a historic property tour from the couch 

The Portland Planning Board was all set to vote March 17 on the Munjoy Hill Historic District after three hours of testimony March 10, after which it tabled a vote until its next meet. But then COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, and most city meetings, including the planning board, are now on hold.

But those who'd like to check out the architectural history of the neighborhood, as well as other neighborhoods in the Portland area, from the comfort of their couch, can check out Greater Portland Landmarks' virtual tours of historic buildings on Munjoy Hill, as well as Woodfords Corners and Deering Heights neighborhoods; St. John and Valley streets; Oakdale, which features kit and catalogue homes; and one non-Portland tour, Yarmouth.

The organization suggests those taking the tours review common architectural styles on their site before they embark.

The city council has the final say on the Munjoy Hill district, and, at some point this year, no matter what the planning board's recommendation, the council will decide. The historic preservation ordinance passed in November by the city's Historic Preservation Board is in effect until other action is taken.

Greater Portland Landmarks, which is in favor of the district said it is working with city staff during the shutdown. The organization said it is also monitoring application submissions and providing public comment on the various projects as they are reviewed.

Survey: Homeowners, renters weren't prepared for COVID-19

Clever Real Estate, an online real estate referral firm, has found in a survey that homeowners and renters in the U.S. were not prepared for COVID-19’s economic impact.

In an online survey of 1,000 people — the only requirement for participating is those answering the survey be over 18 — Clever found:

  • 30% of homeowners had less than $1,000 in an emergency fund before the COVID-19 outbreak;
  • 65% of home buyers are planning on delaying or completely stopping their search for a home because of COVID-19;
  • 85% of homeowners who were looking to sell their homes in the next 12 months have changed their plans to sell as a result of the pandemic;
  • 55% of homeowners who planned to sell their home in the next 12 months either took their home off the market or are holding off on listing for sale as a result of COVID-19;
  • 27% of homeowners are worried about defaulting on their mortgages, and 22% of homeowners don’t have enough in savings to cover their mortgage for one month.

While not a scientific sampling, the survey supports what Maine brokers are saying, about both residential and commercial property — sellers and buyers are taking a break because they're not sure what's going to happen.

To see the full report, click here.

The firm has also put together a database that shows what's going on in each state. Check it out here.

Remote notarizations, rent and mortage relief

On Wednesday, Gov. Janet Mills signed an order allowing remote notarizations, which will make things run more smoothly for brokers, buyers and sellers trying to close on a property.

The order,  which takes effect immediately, temporarily suspends the provisions of Maine law that require the physical presence of a notary or witness with certain exceptions. The order allows Maine people, especially those who are elderly or have underlying health conditions, to conduct important business that requires sworn statements or affidavits with minimal in-person interaction.

Maine may also take steps to protect business and residential property owners and tenants who are unexpectedly without an income because of the COVID-19 crisis, Mills said Tuesday.

"I can't image being evicted," she said. "This is not the right time for landlords to be evicting anybody, whether it's a shop owner on Exchange Street, or an apartment dweller on Munjoy Hill, or kin (Lewiston's) Kennedy Park, or anywhere else in the state of Maine."

She said the state would take a "targeted approach," had details would be made public in the coming days.

She said the state can't forgive the rents that are due, but if people can't pay because they've lost their job because of COVID-19 "we are taking action and you'll see that shortly." She said some mortgage relief may also be available as well.

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